By Shyam Pandharipande
Nagpur : The guest eulogised it, the host rubbished it. The guest called it singularly excellent and inspiring reference point, the host countered it as the root cause of most of India's ills. The guest swore by 'our collective commitment to the values, ideals and principles enshrined in it'; the host asked for its overhaul!
What was disquieting more than the attitude of the host – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief K.S. Sudarshan – joining issue with his guest, former Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, at the Sangh training camp's concluding function here Thursday was that the point of debate was on the Indian constitution.
Handing down an instant, point-by-point rebuttal of the former air chief's observations on the sacred testament, Sudarshan said the constitution was no use for the people of the country as it was based on the Government of India Act of 1935, a tool of capitalist expansion of the British Raj.
Sudarshan buttressed his broadside against the constitution by quoting Mahatma Gandhi as saying that he didn't like the constitution as it was based on a relic of the British Raj and B.R. Ambedkar as saying that he would have burnt it if he had his way.
"We need not fight shy of altering the constitution completely, having already amended it a hundred times," Sudarshan argued, speaking after Tipnis and pointing out that France had done the revision four times. "There is nothing sacrosanct about it. In fact, it is the root cause of most of the country's ills."
On his part, Tipnis described the preamble, the fundamental rights and duties and directive principles of the constitution as its beacon lights and reminded the RSS that we, the people of India, have collectively committed ourselves to the values, ideals and principles enshrined in it.
"No matter what our different and often divergent beliefs, persuasions and ideologies are, all Indians have a singularly excellent and inspiring reference point in our constitution," Tipnis said, urging the 'swayamsevaks' to keep the nation's social fabric intact.
Referring to the recent mindless violence in Punjab and Rajasthan and to the earlier case of Graham Staines murder in Orissa, the former air chief wondered why the people in the land of peace and high ideals clashed so viciously against each other. "It is an anachronism in Mahatma Gandhi's India," he said.
Tipnis praised the Hindu nationalist RSS for its dynamism, discipline and selfless service but urged its leadership to review its agenda to tackle the existing and emerging challenges before the country like corruption, lack of civic sense and environmental degradation.
Counselling a sagacious approach for tackling the increasingly violent reactions of the oppressed to the systemic aberrations, as manifested in the armed tribal and Maoist movements, Tipnis called upon social groups inspired by the love of people to spread the message of non-violence and communal harmony.
In stark contrast, Sudarshan came out with his confrontationist line – attacking Christian missionaries for conversions with secessionist intent and lashing out at communists for destabilising the country, apart from disparaging the Indian constitution.
As if stirring so many hornet's nests at a time wasn't enough, the RSS chief also ridiculed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his views on the Indian Muslim community and termed the Sachar Committee report as an attempt to keep Muslims out of the national mainstream.
Sudarshan's multi-pronged fusillade predictably drew sharp reactions from constitutional experts and liberal intellectuals.
Former chief justice of Bombay High Court Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari denied that the constitution was a mere patchwork or that it did not reflect the Indian ethos. "It reflects the collective aspirations of the Indian freedom fighters right from Vasudeo Balwant Phadke," Dharmadhikari told IANS.
The Panchayat Raj amendment, which gives self-governance rights to the village assembly, will give Indian democracy a truly participatory character and make the constitution more meaningful, Dharmadhikari said. "Any law or constitution can be only as good as its implementation."
Senior advocate K.H. Deshpande said the elaborate constitution was pre-eminently suited to the plural society India has. "A unitary state that RSS wants is neither desirable nor feasible in the land of myriad diversities that is India."
As for Ambedkar's remark that he would burn the constitution if it was within his power, eminent economist Shrinivas Khandewale pointed out that the architect of the constitution said it in the context of the illusive economic equality and freedom of opportunities 10 years after India won political freedom.